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Friday, July 27, 2018

In-Depth Examination of 1888 Tragedy Empathetic, Fascinating

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"A safe and carefree childhood was a luxury the pioneer prairie could not afford" (269).

With scorching temperatures blazing across the world right now, it's hard to believe things will ever cool down.  It's even tougher to imagine that in just a few months people will be flooding social media sites with pictures of towering snow piles, foot-long icicles, and slick, impassable roads.  Just as the news is now reporting deaths due to the fiery heat, soon it will feature stories about people hurt and killed due to freezing winter weather.

The Children's Blizzard (2004) by David Laskin reminds readers of just how unpredictable and nasty winter weather can get.  Both fascinating and heartbreaking, the book revisits the blizzard that whipped across the American prairie in January of 1888, freezing hundreds of people and animals to death, some of them in just minutes.  Because the worst of the storm hit right at the time school released, many of its victims were small children who became lost in a blinding whiteout while trying to find their way home.  

Laskin describes in heart-wrenching detail how the epic blizzard was a "perfect" storm of erratic weather patterns, under-educated forecasters, and unprepared pioneers.  He talks about the settling of the prairie by immigrants lured to the area by fanciful promises that glossed over the harsh realities of living on the unforgiving prairie.  Many pioneers, for instance, froze to death inside their homes simply because of lack of fuel, little food, and structures that weren't equal to the task of keeping the deathly chill at bay. 

Thoroughly researched and well-written, The Children's Blizzard makes for engrossing (albeit horrifying) reading.  It offers an empathetic, in-depth examination of the titular event, which is made even more personal by true stories of the people who lived through the blizzard, suffering the kind of shock, injury, and loss that can never be forgotten.  It's a gripping volume, which I recommend highly to anyone who's interested in reading about wild weather and our shocking vulnerability in the face of its immense, awe-inspiring power.

(Readalikes:  Although I haven't read any other books about The Children's Blizzard, I've heard good things about I Survived the Children's Blizzard, 1888 by Lauren Tarshis.  I'm also reminded of other books about weather-related tragedies, including The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger.)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), blood/gore, and disturbing subject matter 

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Sounds horrifying indeed!

  2. I've seen this book but I don't think I really realized what it was about. I'm going to check into this. It happened on the prairie - midwest? Just curious. My grandparents were born in early 1900's and lived in the Texas Panhandle and through the Dust Bowl years. My grandmother used to talk about the blizzards of her childhood. Thanks for featuring it!

    1. It's an older book, so I had never heard of it until I saw it mentioned somewhere. It really is an interesting read.

      It hit hardest in the Dakotas, but also involved Nebraska, Minnesota, and I'm not sure where else.

  3. I thought this book was fascinating! Maybe because it reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter. :)

    1. Yes, it definitely reminded me of Laura Ingalls Wilder! Life on the prairie was so hard and is so fascinating to me.

    2. I just realized I heard about this book on your blog. Thanks for the rec! I enjoyed it.

  4. Wow this sounds interesting and sad though.

  5. I'm going to have to check out this book. Wilder's book, THE LONG WINTER, is set in the Dakotas or Nebraska (can't remember which state exactly they were living at the time) and Laura Ingalls Wilder was writing about the horrific winter of 1880-1881, one of the worst on record. What a harsh decade that was!

    1. Right? I'm surprised anyone survived it!

  6. It's amazing how interesting weather can be! I like this kind of story with stories of survival (some survive, right?)

    1. Yes, a lot of people survived. Amazing, considering how terrible conditions were. Yikes.


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